Transcript: 5AA Adelaide, Interview with Leon Byner

2 November 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Drug Testing
E&OE

LEON BYNER: 
We're going to talk about chronic fatigue syndrome in the next half hour. It's a problem that's been in the community for a while, and there's a lot of different ways that doctors are treating it, but nobody's really sure what's caused it, so we'll have a look at that. But in the meantime, there was a Newspoll done and the results were pretty interesting, and that is that the survey was conducted in all states – both city and country – and basically most people – four out of five – are in favour of drug testing recipients of welfare payments or Newstart.

Now, of course, this has been controversial, because there are those on the other side who say: oh no, this is not a welfare problem, it's a medical problem – self-inflicted, of course – but to say that it's not a welfare problem- well, look, I can understand why Australians think, in a very strong majority, that this is a good thing, because they don't think that it is their job to subsidise somebody's substance habit. Simple as that. That's probably- I'm sure that's the reason why the Newspoll has found that it's a popular move. The only thing is, of course, that the Senate is unlikely to pass this. They're probably going to reject it.

Now, there are those who say – and many doctors groups say – look, if you're going to deal with people on drugs, you probably ought to use other methods. So let's talk with the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge.

Alan, good morning.

ALAN TUDGE:
Good morning, Leon.

LEON BYNER: 
What was your reaction when you saw that Newspoll?

ALAN TUDGE:
It didn't surprise me to be honest, Leon, because I think you summarised it well that most people are happy to support those who are down on their luck and might not have a job, but they don't want to support someone's drug habit, and it's as simple as that. Additionally, I think they want to see that if people do have a drug habit, that they are identified and given assistance to get off drugs and hopefully back into the workplace.

LEON BYNER: 
So, given the reality may well be that you won't have the numbers in the Senate to get this across, what will you do instead?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, first up, we're disappointed with the position of the Labor Party, and indeed where the Xenophon Team is heading at the moment as well, and that is to not support this drug testing trial. And we're encouraging them to just look at the data today, look at the Newspoll, which says that the Australian public overwhelmingly support this, and this includes, by the way, 67 per cent of ALP voters, of Labor voters. So we want them to actually listen to the Australian people on this, change their position and back it in the Parliament. It hasn't come up for a vote yet; we're still negotiating and we hope that they'll see common sense.

LEON BYNER: 
If they don't, what's going to be your back position?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, we're not backing down on this. We think this is a very important principle at stake, and that is that welfare is there to support the basics, not a drug habit. This is, at the end of the day, a trial, Leon. That's all we're seeking legislative approval for: a trial in three locations. It would consist of testing 5000 new unemployed people, and we estimate that maybe about 400 of those might test positive. So we're talking quite small numbers, and we want to see whether or not our proposals would have the impact on encouraging people to get off drugs and back into the workforce.

LEON BYNER: 
Look, there's been a three-yearly Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Drug and Alcohol Survey, which found that unemployed people were three times more likely to use ice and other amphetamines than those who were employed. What's your reaction to that?

ALAN TUDGE:
Again, this didn't surprise me, and that survey also found that about a quarter of all people on unemployment benefits took drugs last year; maybe about almost one in ten last week. So it's a real issue. Obviously, if an unemployed person is on drugs, they effectively exclude themselves from so many jobs which require you to be drug-free and have regular testing to ensure that. I mean, Leon, you think about the construction industry, the transportation industry, mining, et cetera, et cetera, they have regular testing and if you're not drug-free, you won't get those jobs. So- and, in part, this is what our drug testing is about, is sending a very strong signal, as well as actually having services there to help people get off drugs so that they're hopefully in a better position to get those jobs.

LEON BYNER: 
So in a nutshell, were you to get this through in your three trial areas across Australia, you detect somebody that's on, say, ice, what would happen?

ALAN TUDGE:
So if you test positive the first time, then you'll be placed onto a system of cashless welfare, which we've discussed on your program before. You'll then be asked to be tested again within 25 days. If you test positive then, then you'll be required to undertake a treatment program as a condition of your ongoing welfare receipt.

LEON BYNER: 
Who pays for that?

ALAN TUDGE:
So the taxpayer will pay for that and we're putting $10 million aside to ensure that the services are there. So, in essence, no one loses a cent if you test positive but you will be placed onto cashless welfare and if you still test positive you will be required to undertake a treatment program to get yourself off drugs, hopefully, and be better positioned to take a job.

LEON BYNER: 
When does the vote happen where you know whether you're going to get it up or not?

ALAN TUDGE:
We would like to see it happen this year. So we've only got two more sitting weeks for that to occur, because we're planning for these trials to begin early next year to get them up and running.

LEON BYNER: 
Alright. Alan Tudge, thank you for joining us today. That's the Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge responding to a Newspoll which says that the public overwhelmingly support the drug testing of people receiving welfare.

Now, it's interesting that only 25 per cent- you could probably argue and you would say, well, that's 25 per cent too many, but there is obviously a minority of people who receive Newstart who use drugs. There's also a number of people who work who use drugs, and when they're tested in the workplace – and this is going to become a lot more common – then they either get counselling or they're marched off the premises, especially if they're in the mining sector. But I'm interested in your take on this. I'll tell you what I want to ask you: if you know of somebody who has had somewhat a time of substance abuse, particularly ice, and they've then sought treatment, how hard is it or was it to get the treatment, or is there a bit of a deadlock and waiting list that is months or years long? That's something that I'd be most interested in: 82230000.